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11 must-have features for membership communities (+ Free checklist)

Putting together a membership community? Ensure your website has every feature you need to launch, manage, and grow your business with our checklist of must-haves.

You’ve been plugging along for some time now and, finally, you’ve got the details of your  membership community  all worked out.  

Your membership offer is clear, and you’ve squared away details like:

  • Which tutorials to include

  • What content to post regularly

  • How much to charge

  • Various membership levels

What a load off your back.

Now that you’ve got your membership vision all set, it’s time to bring it to life.

You ask yourself, “Where do you head next? And what exactly do you need from a platform to create the best experience for your membership customers?”

Today, we’ve got the answers for you.

Here are 11 must-have features to look for when setting up your membership community, so you can use a platform that works best for you and your membership business.

Ready to dig in? Great. Just grab your  free membership feature checklist  and let’s get started.

What features should a membership community have?

#1. Multiple membership levels

Multiple membership levels allow you to offer your audience a custom package that best suits their needs and budget.

It’s important to offer options when  setting a price for your membership  plans because not everyone will immediately want to jump into your biggest package, especially if they’re new to your brand.

Plus, when you use tiered pricing, like the  three-pronged pricing  technique, it helps drive more memberships to the mid-tier level, giving your members both a high and low price point anchor.

For instance, the founder of Salesforce Casts , Krishna Teja Karman, offers his audience three membership options so they can choose a plan most appropriate for their company size and budget.

You can follow in Krishna’s footsteps and offer your members three-pronged pricing or you can offer a variety of tiered package levels.

Either way, with multiple membership levels, you have the flexibility to test out a variety of packages as your business and audience grows.

After all, it’s about catering to your members’ needs -- various membership levels allow you to do that.

Our next set of features help with that, too.

#2. Well-designed login, welcome, and content pages

When it comes to designing your membership community, it’s vital to create an interface that supports a positive user experience (UX) for your members.

Why? Because the  goal of UX design  is parallel to your business goals:

“Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”

So, the closer you can get to hitting that mark, the easier it’ll be to hit your other goal posts, particularly your financial goals.

That’s not just conjecture, either. A better UX makes for a better business. In fact, there’s a  $100 return on investment (ROI)  for every dollar spent towards creating stronger, more seamless user experiences with smarter design.

This ROI alone outranks any marketing or promotional effort, and that's not even scratching the surface of what UX can do. It's vital for your SEO, too. (Want to learn more? Check out this  3-step guide to improving user experience ).

Either way, prioritizing your membership site's UX is a no-brainer, so ensure that whichever platform you choose allows you to create well-designed pages for your members to interact with, starting with the login page.

Let's walk through artist Emily Mills' membership community, where you can see her clean login page designed using Podia's platform.

Once signed in, members can easily access their products and the community area using the buttons in the top right corner. 

Pretty easy to navigate, right?

Not just easy, but effortlessly functional. The last thing you want is to turn away your members because of a poorly designed site, which is a common occurrence for sites that aren’t up to snuff. In fact,  94% of visitors  close websites and stop trusting sites with degraded web design.

What a staggering number.

The moral is:

Be sure to use a membership platform that allows you to design an excellent UX, so you can engage and retain your renewing members in the long-run.

After all, one of the biggest perks of having a  membership business  is the recurring revenue from your ongoing membership fees. It’s best not to chance messing that up.

On the note of retaining your members, our next feature, dripped emails, is just as important for keeping your customers engaged and your materials organized.

#3. Time-released email notifications

As you manage your membership community, you need the ability to send out time-released emails to your members after they join.

Why? Because the nurturing doesn’t stop after your leads become paid members. It’s important to continue to engage with your members through subsequent emails and updated content if you want a loyal customer base.

Dripped email notifications (i.e., automated emails sent in a scheduled sequence) are a great way to strengthen and nurture your relationship with your members.

On average, customers open post-purchase emails at a  59.1% rate , which is 40% higher than the welcome email.

And since every membership post is a post-purchase email of sorts -- people are paying you on a recurring basis -- email is an especially great way to provide follow-up support over time.  

Take advantage of that opportunity by dripping content that continues to solve their problems and entice them to engage with your membership community.

Just make sure you keep it personal, i.e., relevant, to your audience.  80% of marketers  agree that personalized content is more effective than unpersonalized.  

An effective way to create personalized emails is to use email segmentation to address your member’s specific needs, problems, and stage of  the buying journey .

In other words, different types of customers need different emails. A new member is likely in a different stage than a veteran member who’s been a part of your community for several months, so be sure to call it out in your email messaging and content.

In a nutshell:

Personalization, a significant part of retaining your membership, is much more convenient when you have a platform that allows you to automate and schedule your emails based on your members’ behaviors and actions.

As for how to send and manage those emails, that’s where the next feature -- integrations -- comes in.

#4. Integrations

Vertical integration across your business is a must-have feature in your membership platform. Without integrations, both your members’ and your own user experience can be clunky and frustrating.

For instance, if you’re using a third-party email service, such as Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign , you want to be  able to integrate  your contacts with your platform of choice.

(Or, if you prefer not to deal with email integrations,  Podia Email  is already connected to your website and products. Your first 100 subscribers are free.)

This allows you to continue segmenting your lists by tracking purchases and various behaviors and actions that your members take, like which links and resources they click on.

Otherwise, you’ll be sorting through siloed emails lists, losing track of who’s received what and when.

Email isn’t the only service provider you want to be able to integrate. Look out for these categories, too:

  • Payment processors - e.g., Stripe or PayPal

  • Analytics - Such as Google Analytics or Hotjar

  • Advertising platforms - Like Facebook, Pinterest, or GoogleAds

  • Third-party code snippets - Any installed app that requires a code snippet, such as Sumo, Proof, Olark, ProveSource, or Deadline Funnel

All in all, as your audience and their needs expand, so can your business, as long as you have all your tools working in conjunction with one another. Integrations accommodate your need for using multiple tools to grow your business in one convenient place.

A seamless growth experience sounds ideal, no?  

#5. Trials, discounts, and coupons

The ability to offer freebies, discounts, coupons, and trials is a must. This gives your audience the chance to get to know, like, and trust you before committing to your membership.

Why? Put simply, free trials really work. They’re a great gateway into paid memberships. In fact, subscription-based businesses, like membership communities, that offer a free trial have a  conversion rate of 59.9% .

Better yet, use a membership platform that allows you to offer free tiers so members can explore your valuable content -- and preview your style -- at their convenience.

For example, Scott and Tawnya Landis offer their audience a free membership level, which they can trial before joining as paid Awakened Life Academy members.

You can also dedicate one of your digital products as a free digital download , just like the founder of The Hula Hooper , Bee Varga, does. She offers prospective members the chance to sample a membership video before purchasing her monthly membership.

If you don’t want to give anything away for free, make sure your platform offers the flexibility of offering discounts and coupons to your members.  

When using an all-in-one platform like Podia, setting up coupons and discounts is easy. You simply navigate to the "Sales" menu and click "New coupon". Then you can set the coupon code, value, limits, expiration date, and products it applies to. You can create coupons for all your membership community plans or specific tiers.

Simple as that.


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In sum:

Make sure your membership platform allows you to offer free trials and discounts, so you have the chance to warm up your audience first before they commit to purchasing a recurring membership with you.

It’s a great way to build rapport, credibility, and trust among your audience, leading to a loyal customer base. Our next feature also focuses on growing your business through trust.

#6. Affiliate marketing

With 81% of brands  using affiliate programs, the ability to set up your own affiliate program is an important feature for growing your membership business.

When you create an affiliate marketing program , your affiliates sell memberships on your behalf in exchange for a commission payment for each membership they sell.

What better way to expand your membership community than to have members themselves sell and advocate for your brand?

This goes beyond the impact of testimonials -- which can increase conversions on your page by  up to 270%  -- where your customers not only vouch for your brand, but they actively promote it.

As you can see here, affiliates  consistently drive new customers  for businesses, especially during the holiday season.

So, you may want to offer a special affiliate incentive to people joining your membership around the holidays.

Using Podia’s platform, setting up an  affiliate program  is straightforward. Simply click on the "Audience" tab and click "Affiliates" in the drop-down menu. This will open up your affiliate dashboard where you can invite members, track sales, and manage how much your affiliates earn per sale.

Doesn’t get much simpler than that, right?

You can see for yourself how seamless the platform works by  signing up for free today .

Here’s the gist of it:

To grow your membership community, make sure you have a platform that lets you create an affiliate marketing program so your existing members can advocate for your brand and sell memberships on your behalf.

#7. Mobile-friendliness

These days, it’s imperative your membership site is mobile-friendly, with  52.2% of pages  being served on mobile phones.

Your membership platform should, at a minimum, accommodate a  mobile-responsive design , which includes details like:

  • Readable text without requiring zoom on widespread resolutions

  • Sufficient space around your buttons and other “tap targets”

  • No horizontal scrolling

If you don’t take care of your mobile users, it could mean a poor user experience for your members and bad news for your membership business.

In fact,  48% of users  feel frustrated and annoyed when sites are poorly optimized for mobile, and 52% will engage less with your brand.

So it’s worth testing out your various page designs on a mobile device before going live.

When testing your mobile environments, be sure your membership communities work well with the Google Chrome and Safari browsers in particular. They’re the most frequently used browsers on mobile, with Chrome taking up  61.6% market share  and Safari at 28.4% market share.

There are no signs of mobile usage slowing down, so be sure to use a membership platform that allows you to create a mobile-friendly site.

Again, you want your membership community to be associated with a positive user experience and trustworthy brand, which our next feature also helps you attain.

#8. Custom domains with SSL

Another essential feature to have in your membership community platform is the ability to create a custom domain, which is a unique branded URL that identifies your site.

For example, Emily Mills, creator of  Sketch Academy , uses a custom domain.

Consistently branding your business and aligning your site design with your URL signals to your members they’re in the right place, and it bolsters your signature brand.

This is vital for the health of your business across the board, especially when communicating with your existing customers. As you can see here,  72% of businesses  claim consistent branding plays a major role in their revenue cycle.  

So look for a membership platform that lets you create a custom domain.

Better yet, use a platform that provides a custom domain with SSL feature so you can represent your brand as a secure and trustworthy site.

SSL is used to keep sensitive information encrypted, such as login and payment info, so your customers -- and business -- aren’t exposed to risk. You can tell if a site uses an SSL certificate by the “https” at the start of the URL, like in Emily's membership community.

Another reason to prioritize this feature in your membership community platform is Google may  enforce the usage  of SSL certificates this year.

The short of it is:

Use a platform that allows you to use a custom domain with an SSL certificate, so you can increase your brand equity and represent a secure and safe membership community.

#9. Direct payments with multiple payment gateway options

Whether using PayPal, Stripe, or another payment processor, you want a feature that accepts direct payments on your membership community so you don’t have to wait for a third party to process (and delay) your payment.

When you’re paid directly, you also gain the perk of keeping better financial reporting because all the sales data is in your payment processor. If you decide to move platforms, you’ll always have access to your sales data.

Bonus tip: Be sure your mobile payment system works seamlessly on smart devices.

There’s a growing number of people using mobile payments each year --  55 million , or 20.2% of the population, in the US alone just last year.

The main point is to use a platform that lets you accept direct payments across multiple payment gateway options. This allows you to keep your sales data in-house for better financial reporting, and in turn, better finances overall.

#10. Customer management and analytics

As you grow your business, it’s vital to have access to customer relationship data so you can track important growth metrics such as new members, cancellations, churn rate, growth rate, membership profits, and lifetime member value.  Projecting your membership profits  is another must-have, too, though that likely goes without saying.

Key membership community customer  metrics to track  are:

  • New members - Are you gaining more memberships year over year?

  • Member engagement - What portion of your membership is active and participating?

  • Member retention - How many people renew their memberships?

  • Site traffic - How much traffic are you generating and which pages are frequented the most?

For the last metric, it’s essential for your membership platform to integrate with third-party tracking solutions like Google Analytics to get a comprehensive picture of your site’s traffic and overall performance.

Using Podia’s platform, you can integrate your Google Analytics by heading to the “settings” menu and entering your tracking ID in the form field midway through the page.

As you can see, you’ll find two more form fields on the same page, where you can enter a custom code for additional third-party snippets, like Facebook Pixels and Google Conversion Events.

Bottom line:

Find a platform that enables all of your vital reporting and tracking seamlessly. Keeping tabs on key business metrics is imperative for the growth of your business.

#11. Ease of use

To avoid a frustrating time muddling through a complex platform with limiting restrictions, find one that’s intuitive and convenient to use from the start.

You’ll know it’s intuitive if you don’t have to think about if it was easy to use. Otherwise, keep an eye out for these specific features:

#1. Intuitive dashboard - As a  solopreneur business owner , it’s essential not to waste your time wrestling a complicated platform. Hunt for a membership platform with a dashboard that’s as user-friendly as a paint-by-numbers illustration.

For example, using Podia’s dashboard, setting up your membership community is as straightforward as heading to your “Community” menu and adding your topics, creating posts, and adjusting your member settings. You can update your program's name, description, featured image, and plans at any time.

But, getting back to our features list, the next thing you want to look out for is:

#2. Content hosting - Rather than relying on WordPress or YouTube to host your content, it’s much more convenient to host your content directly on your membership community without having to wrangle between two locations.

Finally, the last hallmark of an easy-to-use site is its limits -- or rather, not having any.

#3. Unlimited everything - Find a platform that accepts all file types (i.e., videos, MP3s, PDFs, text, et cetera) and doesn’t restrict the size of your content, file size, plans, and members.

Basically, with an easy-to-use platform and no limiting constraints, you can spend less time dealing with annoying logistics of managing your membership community and more time serving your audience and growing your business.

If there’s a better way to do business than that, we haven’t found it yet.

Get creative and grow with your membership community

Sure, you want to have all the bells and whistles included in your membership community, yet you also want to be conscious of your budget and business needs.

After all, you’ve seen a ton of software options out there, and each platform appears to offer its own set of features. They, of course, have varying price points, too.

What are the most critical features that you need for your membership community?

Here’s the lowdown:

  • Your platform should include features that give your members a user-friendly and personal experience by enabling you to provide multiple membership levels, mobile-friendly designs, and time-released (drip) emails.

  • It’s also important to create a seamless membership experience for both yourself as the site manager and your members. This is where features like integrations and ease of use come in handy.

  • When it comes to growing your business, look for a platform that lets you set up an affiliate marketing program so your biggest fans can promote your membership on your behalf.

  • Platforms that allow for free tiers, discounts, and coupons will help you build credibility with your audience and convert more leads into customers -- which means you need one that gives you the opportunity without convoluted workarounds.

  • A feature that lets you use custom domains with an SSL also strengthens your brand, credibility, and trustworthiness.

  • Finally, if you want to track your financial data for your membership community, look for features like the ability to accept direct payments. It’s even better if the platform lets you manage your customer and website information in a unified dashboard.

  • Looking for a way to keep all of these features straight in your head? This  free must-have membership features checklist  should help.

Now that you have some clarity on the critical features for your membership community, it’s time for you to do what you do best and get creative.

The sky, at least with the right platform, is the limit.

About the author

Cyn Meyer was a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.